Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
In his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) learns that Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), an inmate of Azkaban prison for his role in the death of Harry’s parents, has escaped and may be coming for Harry next. That’s the simple version: the more complicated tale involves shape-shifting animals, mistaken identities, time travel, and a very large teenager-hungry tree. Meanwhile, the kids in the cast are maturing, growing into their roles without a trace of awkwardness. The most important development, though, is the film’s running time. Even though the books get longer as the series goes on, this film installment is a little shorter than the first two, thanks to a looser, less slavish devotion to its source; as a result, it plays much more briskly. That may upset literal-minded devotees of the novels, but will delight those who want their movies to actually move.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (The large cast has lots of experience in queer-themed projects. Oldman played Joe Orton in “Prick Up Your Ears”; co-star David Thewlis was Paul Verlaine in “Total Eclipse”; Emma Thompson recently appeared in “Angels in America”; and Julie Walters costarred in “Billy Elliot” and the independent films “Sister My Sister” and “Just Like a Woman.”)
Shocked when her boyfriend, Dean (Chad Faust), reveals that he’s gay, born-again Mary (Jena Malone) sleeps with him in the belief that Jesus wants her to set him straight. When Dean is sent away for therapy and she finds herself queasy with morning sickness, Mary creates a scandal at her Christian high school as she begins to question her faith. A talented ensemble lets the one-liners fly in this satirical teen comedy that genially skewers rigid beliefs and the social purgatory of adolescence with equal abandon. Some characters – notably Mary’s hellbent-for-heaven rival Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) – are little more than rabid Christian stereotypes. But that barely detracts from a movie that delivers a message of unconditional love, acceptance, and, yes, faith – along with the belly laughs.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 4 (A minor subplot involves Dean’s learning to accept his sexuality and finding a boyfriend in spite of therapy that encourages him to renounce his homosexuality. Malone and co-stars Heather Matarazzo, Martin Donovan, and Mary-Louise Parker have all appeared in queer-themed films. And ever since former child star Macaulay Culkin returned to the camera after eight years, he’s appeared in this, “Party Monster,” and on “Will & Grace.”)
Breakin’ All the Rules
Quincy Watson (Jamie Foxx) responds to losing both his job and his girlfriend by penning a how-to book on breaking off relationships using business-termination tactics. The book becomes a runaway bestseller that falsely cements Quincy’s reputation as a player, muddying an already complicated situation when he meets and falls for his cousin Evan’s (Morris Chestnut) main squeeze, Nicky (Gabrielle Union). This undemanding romantic comedy derives its laughs from light slapstick, multiple cases of mistaken identity, and a talented pug. The humor never rises above the sitcom level, but the pooch’s drunk act and an amiable ensemble that includes Jennifer Esposito and Peter MacNicol provide a pleasant, if mindless, diversion.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 0 (No queer content whatsoever, but Esposito did appear in “Boys Life 3” and “Kiss Me, Guido.”)
The Day After Tomorrow
Climatologist Jack Hall’s (Dennis Quaid) dire warnings of a new Ice Age come true as tornados demolish Los Angeles, baseball-size hail rains over Tokyo, and a tsunami swamps Manhattan, all in advance of a mega-storm that will freeze the northern hemisphere. As if worldwide catastrophe weren’t enough, Hall also faces the possibility of losing his teenage son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s trapped in the New York Public Library. This disaster melodrama rises above its inane plot on the strength of Quaid’s roguish charm, an excellent supporting cast, and superior computer-generated special effects, particularly as the twisters lay waste to L.A. But genuine thrills are kept to a minimum, thanks to too many action scenes that amount to little more than people trudging through snow.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Quaid played the closeted husband in Todd Haynes’ “Far from Heaven.” Co-stars Ian Holm, Dash Mihok, Sela Ward, Tamlyn Tomita, and Perry King have all appeared in queer-themed projects.)
Man on Fire
John Creasy (Denzel Washington) is a burned-out, alcoholic counterterrorism veteran who takes a job as bodyguard for a 9-year-old girl (Dakota Fanning) in kidnap-plagued Mexico. But this strange film can’t decide whether it wants to be the story of a downcast man redeemed by contact with a child who loves him, or a standard-issue Hollywood revenge flick with extra helpings of graphic violence. As soon as the audience wraps its collective mind around Washington’s moody performance and Fanning’s poised-beyond-her-years personality (and impending kidnapping), the tone abruptly changes and bodies start getting mowed down. The unlikely pairing of a veteran Oscar winner and a whip-smart little girl makes the first half of the movie completely watchable; yet a “Walking Tall”/”Punisher”-style vigilante bloodbath makes the second half a big, yawning anticlimax.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Washington is now somewhat notorious for his career advice – which went something like this: never kiss another man onscreen – to a young Will Smith, just as that actor was preparing to play gay in “Six Degrees of Separation.” Washington went on to star in “Philadelphia.” Supporting cast member Mickey Rourke played a drag queen in the little-seen indie film “Animal Factory,” and co-star Radha Mitchell played a lesbian in “High Art.”)
Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), home-schooled in Africa her entire life, moves to America and quickly finds herself at what can only be described as Lord of the Flies High School, where the caste system is vicious. Simultaneously falling in with the “art weirdos” (read: queer kids) and the “Plastics” (rich, beautiful girls), she’s put up to the prank of infiltrating the latter to exact revenge on them for their years-long torment of kids lower on the social totem pole. The snag: in doing so, she finds herself craving their attention, acceptance, and access to cute boys. “Saturday Night Live” writer Tina Fey’s script is a dead-on attack of the uniquely horrible world of adolescent females, and it only suffers when forced to make nice in the third act. So while not the classic teen-angst comedy that was “Heathers” – where the revenge took on unapologetically murderous dimensions – it’s still a hilarious glimpse of high school hell.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 4 (Co-star Daniel Franzese plays the type of rebellious, chubby, high school gay boy you wish you had had the nerve to be, and co-star Lizzy Caplan is his comrade in popular-kid terrorism – a maybe-lesbian-maybe-not girl named Janis Ian. These two steal every scene they’re in, and if there were such a thing as artistic justice in Hollywood, they’d get their own queer “Ghost World”-esque sequel.)
When her sister and brother-in-law die in an auto accident, fast-living fashion executive Helen (Kate Hudson) must step in to raise her nephew and two nieces. She’s absolutely unprepared for the responsibility and needs constant help from her other sister, Jenny (Joan Cusack), a Supermom who resents being passed over for the job of guardian. Unsurprisingly, as with everything else in this painfully predictable and unfunny big-screen sitcom, Helen finally learns the true meaning of family, parenthood, and life, thanks to her exposure to the bratty kids and the near-poverty living conditions their presence creates. Every so often, Hollywood likes to sell this sort of lie to remind everyone unfortunate enough to buy a ticket that true happiness is the simple life of family values and store-brand macaroni-and-cheese. Don’t swallow it.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s a vaguely gayish atmosphere created by Helen’s nameless, disposable, gay fashion-world “friends.” Also, Hudson played a budding lesbian in Robert Altman’s “Dr. T and the Women,” Cusack starred in “In & Out,” and co-star John Corbett was a regular on “Sex and the City.”)
They could have called this delightful sequel “Meet the Parents,” if that title hadn’t already been taken, because it sums up the plot nicely. Shrek (the voice of Mike Myers) and his new bride, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) in tow, visit the land of Far Far Away to show Fiona’s parents (Julie Andrews, John Cleese) that she’s happily become an ogre in order to marry Shrek. Appalled that his daughter has wed a monster instead of the self-absorbed Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), the king enlists the help of a mean-spirited Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) in an attempt to steal Fiona back. What follows is witty, sweet, and love-affirming, leaving behind the smutty double entendres and (most of) the low-brow flatulence humor of the original. It’s that rarest of sequels – one that’s vastly superior to its precursor, and one that will leave you happily ever after.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 2 (Although there’s no explicitly queer content, it could be argued that the story, with its “love whom you choose” message, is a metaphor for same-sex marriage; in addition, one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters (voiced by Larry King) is a man in drag. Myers played gay in “54,” Andrews starred in “Victor/Victoria,” Saunders stars on TV’s “Absolutely Fabulous,” and Antonio Banderas, who voices Puss-in-Boots, is a veteran of Pedro Almodovar’s films and played gay in “Philadelphia.” Everett, it goes without saying, is gay full time.)
On NWA Airlines, negative stereotypes rule: black passengers drink malt liquor and eat fried chicken; white passengers are named “Honky”; Latino characters’ entrances are accompanied by mariachi trumpets; Middle Easterners are turbaned terrorists; women are “bitches” and “ho’s”; and gay male flight attendants squeal, bat their eyes, and wear a lot of lip gloss. Meanwhile, the plot of this ensemble “Airplane”-style spoof involves a hip-hop airline that caters to African-American passengers with a high tolerance for incompetent, dope-smoking pilots (Snoop Dogg), trash-talking crewmembers (Mo’Nique and Loni Love), and the likelihood of a fatal crash. And as offensive as it is – and it is – the movie aims low and hits its mark with plenty of throwaway humor and crudely inventive visual style.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 2 (There are plenty of gay jokes flying around the cabin of this plane, and all of them are homophobic. Whether or not they should be seen as more or less offensive than the other thoroughly racist and sexist content is up to individual viewers. Sensitive persons should probably stay away. But for queer audiences interested in witnessing how far gay men still have to go with regard to African-American comedies of this sort, film school begins here. The one gay character with a name is flight attendant Flame – played by Gary Anthony Williams. Cast member Tom Arnold was a regular on “Roseanne,” a sitcom that broke lots of TV ground with its lesbian content.)
13 Going on 30
Disappointed when the cool kids desert her 13th birthday party, Jenna Rink (Christa Allen) makes a wish to be “30, flirty, and thriving.” In the morning, Jenna (now played by Jennifer Garner) wakes up to find herself morphed into a highly successful Manhattan magazine editor, but with the emotions of her teenage self and no memory of the last 17 years. This romantic comedy adds a fresh twist to a well-worn plot by adding a backstory that covers those missing years, as Jenna realizes that her accomplishments and popularity came at a terrible price. The comely Garner displays a charming flair for sometimes boisterously physical humor that is well-matched by Mark Ruffalo as an old friend who never quite got over an adolescent crush.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Andy Serkis plays Jenna’s gay boss. Ruffalo appeared in “54,” and co-star Joe Grifasi had a recurring role on the queer sitcom “Some of My Best Friends.”)
Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) ignites a powder keg when he runs off with Spartan king Menelaus’ (Brendan Gleeson) wife, Helen (Diana Kruger). In answer to this insult, Menelaus’ brother, Mycenaean king Agamemnon (Brian Cox), unites the Greek tribes to make war on Troy. Joining him in the campaign is godlike warrior Achilles (Brad Pitt), fighting for neither king nor country, but purely for glory. This Greek mythology “lite” transforms formidable legend into soapy melodrama, wasting fine individual fight choreography, luminous cinematography, and Eric Bana’s transcendent performance as Paris’ protective brother, Hector. Inane dialogue, battles rendered in obvious CGI, and the egregious miscasting of the wimpy Bloom and petulant Pitt doom this would-be epic. It’s all cheese, no whiz.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Achilles’ exceptional closeness with his cousin Patroclus leads one to wonder how Greek these Greeks really are. The battle togs of both sides reveal lots of shapely legs, and Bloom and Pitt display their bare bottoms – the best argument for why either was cast. Cox, Bloom, and co-stars Sean Bean and Peter O’Toole have all appeared in queer-themed films.)
When Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) arrives in Transylvania to vanquish the vampire Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), he finds himself in a country teeming with monsters that include Frankenstein’s creature (Shuler Hensley) and a werewolf (Will Kemp). Though he likes to work alone, Van Helsing makes an exception for the headstrong Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), the woman he’s vowed to protect and who insists on teaming with him to vanquish the festering evil. Jackman’s charm, coupled with some excellent special effects and a wonderfully atmospheric prologue that evokes the spirit of ’30s-era horror classics, promise a bang-up frightfest. But the movie quickly deteriorates into a monster mishmash, thanks to banal dialogue, overly frantic and pointless action scenes, and an inane story.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (There are homoerotic overtones to interactions between Van Helsing and Dracula and between Anna and Dracula’s brides. Jackman is currently playing gay singer-songwriter Peter Allen on Broadway in “The Boy from Oz.” Beckinsale and co-stars Kevin J. O’Connor, Robbie Coltrane, and Samuel West have appeared in queer-themed films.)